n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Applying effective practice principles to work with child sex offenders in South Africa

Volume 16, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



Child abuse in South Africa has come to national attention in the last few years and one particular group of offenders that is receiving attention is children who commit sexual offences. The needs of this group of children have been discussed as part of the debate leading to the introduction of the Child Justice Bill, and there are two high profile programmes in South Africa offering services to adolescent sex offenders namely Childline in KwaZulu-Natal and SAYStOP, which originated in the Western Cape. Practitioners and professionals working with this group of young people recognise the need for a consistent and co-ordinated national strategy. This article argues that the development of a national programme or a universal approach should be grounded in research and based on effective practice principles. The article discusses the nature and prevalence of children committing sexual offences in South Africa and argues that there is a particular culture of sexual violence which leads to girls being at risk from their peers and a total extent of sexual offending by children that is much greater than that reported or that leads to convictions. The article goes on to measure Childline and SAYStOP against effective practice criteria. It discusses to what extent the two organisations match intervention against risk classification; whether they target criminogenic needs; whether their interventions match the learning styles of offenders and use a variety of methods; whether they are based in the community and whether they are able to meet the exacting standards of programme integrity. Both organisations meet many of these criteria and the article concludes with three recommendations for taking forward work with this group of children in South Africa. Firstly, it is recommended that the effective practice criteria be researched in South Africa rather than being uncritically assumed to be relevant. Secondly, the inability or unwillingness to supervise high-risk young people in the community is questioned. Thirdly, the article recommends that an important first step in developing a national, systematic approach to working with children who commit sexual offences is to conduct baseline research.

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